Author’s Note: Below you will find an “SRI Website Review” commissioned by CBERN, which compares the online presence of three important companies dealing with the SRI sector – SRI Connect, SHARE, and Emerging Markets ESG. The purpose of this brief is to provide an overview of each website, a review of the services offered by the host company, and a reflection on the site’s overall usability, currency, and personal impressions.
SRI Connect: www.sri-connect.com
Employing the tagline of “where sustainable companies meet responsible investors,” SRI Connect is a website for which the target audience can be broadly categorized as “SRI professionals” encompassing the three main categories that the page seeks to help network together, namely the employees of ethical business firms, responsible investors, and financial advisors working in the sphere of socially responsible investing.
SRI Connect is chock full of resources to help facilitate connections and the dissemination of focused knowledge within the responsible investing community. The project breaks down into many moving parts which, taken together, provide an excellent database for both networking and keeping abreast of industry developments.
Market Buzz is your source of the latest information on SRI industry news, functioning almost like an RSS feed while allowing users to publish their own research to targeted, “like-minded” audiences. It employs many features which are also popular on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, acting as a social media tool specifically crafted to connect SRI professionals. As per the company’s description of this utility, “it aims to replicate, for the SRI industry, the flows of news, research, ideas, questions, sentiment, and even gossip that circulates on the investment trading floors of the world.”
The directory is just that – a comprehensive guide to key players in the SRI industry, all collected and organized into an accessible database which covers the individuals, funds, organisations, and indices which any SRI professional, advisor, or investor would have interest in connecting to. Once an individual or organization is registered with SRI Connect, they are invited to make a profile which outlines research and event invitations they’ve received, methods to connect with each specific user, specific interests, and other pertinent information which can assist in bringing like-minded people together.
Info and Comment
Essentially acting as the hub of intelligence-gathering efforts through SRI Connect, the Info and Comment feature “contains industry context, information, and analysis that enables and supports communication and networking within the SRI industry.” This hub of information is broken down into the following sub-sections:
- SRI Backgrounders: providing a profile of the SRI industry – who are the key players, what are their methods and channels of interaction, and an introduction to SRI terminology.
- SRI Dynamics: a collection of nine academic papers which discuss the structure of the SRI industry, its technicalities, its challenges, and future concerns.
- SRI-Kipedia: A “wiki” which analyzes sustainability issues vis-à-vis SRI sectors, and explores the relationship and interactions between the two components.
- Blogs: A place for SRI Connect members to post ideas, research, and have a personal space on the site to call their own.
- News sources for SRI Info: news reports filtered and hand-picked from 200+ SRI industry sources, sent to members after review by SRI Connect editors.
This function of SRI Connect is where the social networking interactions happen. Once a member has collected their news from Market Buzz, linked to relevant parties through the directory, and analyzed intelligence from the Info and Comment channel, they can use the SRI Network to develop and nurture their connections with other registered members. This mechanism employs six different tools to help facilitate communication between SRI Connect members:
- Profiles: As noted prior, the profile is essentially an introduction where you present yourself or your organisation to other registered members on the site.
- Connections: Allows users to select what news they receive from other SRI Connect members.
- Discussion groups: A forum for users to post topics and discuss these issues in a public setting.
- Events: A tool for organising events, sending invitations, and managing responses.
- Blogs: As noted above, a place for SRI Connect members to post ideas, research, and have a personal space on the site to call their own.
- Messaging: Facilitates private lines of communication between users.
In a nutshell, SRI Connect is a wholesome and well-rounded website which contains all the necessary trappings to assisting in the facilitation of communication and networking between registered members. With an extensive directory of SRI personnel, and an intelligence hub to provide background on those personnel, SRI Connect provides a complete picture of each user’s interests, objectives, and activities, placing registered members in a unique position to know precisely which other users they should be connecting with. The social networking aspect of SRI Connect makes organising connections accessible and easy, and enables fluid lines of communication whether via discussion groups, blogs, or private messaging. Since the SRI Connect staff are always reviewing the latest information coming hot off the SRI press, registered users are always up-to-date on all aspects of the SRI industry, giving them the knowledge, connections, and forums required to become the most informed players in this sector.
Describing itself as a “Canadian leader in responsible investment services, research, and education for institutional investors,” SHARE has developed a website showcasing a multiplicity of online resources for its extensive array of big-name clients including pension funds, mutual funds, foundations, faith-based organisations, and asset managers across Canada.
Like SRI Connect, SHARE hosts a treasure trove of resources for just about anyone connected to the SRI industry whether a business professional, investor, researcher, or a simple observer. Its long list of services offered includes “proxy voting, shareholder engagement and responsible investment consulting services, courses and conferences, policy advocacy, and timely research that help investors integrate environmental, social, and governance issues into their investment management process.”
Probably one of the most important services that any SRI consulting firm can offer is an intelligence gathering and implementation mechanism which consolidates information in an effort to advise investors how to vote by proxy on each issue at the companies where they actively involved, while also voting on behalf of investors who delegate their authority to SHARE analysts. The role of this utility is to analyze “management and shareholder proposals based on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors” in order to advise investors on how to vote responsibly during each proxy session with the end goal of building “long-term shareholder value”. With quarterly proxy voting reports tailored to each client’s portfolio, Proxy Voting allows investors to keep their investments in-sync with the most relevant and socially responsible financial funds.
A crucible of socially responsible investment is shareholder engagement, a topic that we have blogged about at CBERN on many occasions. Understanding the needs of investors is paramount for SRI companies, and SHARE’s Shareholder Engagement strategy establishes a line of communication between shareholders and companies where environmental, social, and governance factors are at the core of the conversation. Within the Shareholder Engagement strategy, there exist a number of segments that potential SHARE users should also be aware of, detailed below.
- Shareholder Engagement Process: A system whereby corporate performance is assessed, best corporate practices are identified, recommendations are crafted for policy considerations, and implementation of new practices is confirmed – all based on shareholder engagement mechanisms.
- Core Shareholder Engagement: Like SRI Connect, SHARE seeks to connect “like-minded clients” by pooling resources through its Core Shareholder Engagement service. By developing an annual plan for clients, a list of key companies and funds is developed in order to pinpoint the most relevant portfolios for investors, with a minimal cost and maximum impact philosophy in mind.
- Custom Shareholder Engagement: Somewhat different from Core Shareholder Engagement, this tool is used to craft “shareholder engagement strategies to align with individual client’s investment policies and values.” Particular issues are chosen by investors which SHARE then uses to create a customized portfolio based on clients’ “investment policies and values”.
- Shareholder Engagement Topics: A number of unique issues are covered by SHARE with custom tailored portfolios crafted for clients geared towards tackling subjects like climate change, oil sands reclamation, toxic chemicals, oil tanker traffic on the Canadian West Coast, sustainable forestry, human and indigenous rights, responsible property investing and property management, fair trade coffee, executive compensation, and sustainability reporting.
Becoming an Affiliate
Registering with SHARE as an affiliate is an excellent way to take advantage of a service that “offers institutional investors a high-value, cost-effective introduction to responsible investment.” When an individual or company affiliates with SHARE, they stand to benefit from a number of fundamentally important resources that are crucial to ensuring a successful transition into the SRI industry. Services rendered to affiliates include consulting on responsible investment policies and implementation, introductory presentations for new-comers to SRI, a 15% discount on all SHARE conferences and events, access to SHARE’s research reports and periodicals, and the ability to network with SHARE’s global responsible investment network.
Responsible Investment (RI) Consulting and Toolkit
While RI Consulting and the Responsible Investment Toolkit are featured as two separate instruments under SHARE’s hierarchy of services, these two units are intricately tied together and therefore it would do well to consider them under the umbrella of responsible investing activities on the whole.
SHARE’s RI Consulting has been put in place to craft responsible investment policies for institutions by connecting with the right “pension funds, asset managers, foundations, universities, trade unions, and other institutional investors to find the right combination of responsible investment strategies and tools.” Programs offered within RI Consulting include Responsible Investment Policy Development, Responsible Investment Implementation Planning, UN Principles for Responsible Investment Compliance, and Capital Stewardship Strategies.
The Responsible Investment Toolkit developed by SHARE “in response to growing interest in responsible investment from trustees and other fiduciaries” in order to provide a “comprehensive toolkit with background information and step-by-step implementation strategies.” The Toolkit has been designed for best practice in responsible investing with a particular focus on pension funds, foundations, and endowments, and it follows a four-tier plan which is broken down into educating key decision-makers, the policy development process, implementing responsible investment strategies, and actively monitoring the newly implemented responsible investment policies adopted by clients to make sure that clients’ aims and objectives are being met.
All things considered, SHARE’s website is a thoroughly exhaustive, easily accessible, and mature rendition of SRI services that provides clients with the content and consulting required to gain a firm foothold in the SRI industry. The scope of SHARE’s activities is international, and the website reflects this well with a wide-range of affiliate links to SRI industry partners such as the UNPRI, the Enhanced Analytics Initiative, the Carbon Disclosure Project, Pharma Futures, and the International Corporate Governance Network. The SHARE website offers detailed information about every facet of its operations, and although its social media presence is still in its infancy, the company has established itself on the most important platforms – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The site can be summed up as a B2B portal for the most popular SRI services, which is rather different from the social networking image that the previously reviewed SRI Connect prides itself on.
EMERGING Markets ESG: www.emergingmarketsesg.net
Functioning as a consulting agency, Emerging Markets ESG (EMESG) is “dedicated to the analysis, benchmarking, development, and promotion of reporting on environmental, social, and governance indicators in emerging markets” – a mission statement that is clearly discernible from the name of the firm itself.
Accordingly, EMESG is dedicated to acting as a portal for research into ESG initiatives, hosting an archive of information relating to past projects, maintaining a calendar of upcoming events, and offering a network where interested parties can develop and exchange ideas with one another. Within its mission statement, EMESG has set a two-tier structure in place – first, “to identify best practice in ESG reporting in emerging markets; and second, “to promote the adoption of international standards in financial as well as extra-financial (ESG) reporting in emerging markets”. The company does not explicitly state its intended target audience; however, judging by the services it offers, private investors and larger corporate clients both stand to benefit from the firm’s analysis on ESG in emerging markets, drawing on the knowledge, experience, and network opportunities offered by this agency.
Emerging Markets ESG is a consultancy first and foremost, and its services are structured in the image of an academic think-tank (which is no accident, considering that its Managing Director is Geoffrey Mazullo, Adjunct Professor at the School of American Law in Gdansk and Wroclaw, Poland).
- Analysis: This is the defining feature of EMESG’s mission – services include “comparative analysis of disclosure regimes, benchmarking, and issue-based research”
- Benchmarking: EMESG employs an indexing process whereby corporate ESG disclosures are identified and measured against best practice and international standards, and also compared to the rankings of peers on the local, national, and international levels.
- Case Study Writing: EMESG has built, through its research efforts, a comprehensive library of case studies on ESG in emerging markets which is offered in conjunction with academic training workshops for those looking to learn how to write case studies themselves.
- Surveys: EMESG offers a comprehensive survey service whereby ESG disclosures are analyzed in emerging markets through best practice policies, by using the benchmarking and analytical tools described herein.
- Training: EMESG offers in-depth training for investors, professionals, and academics on identifying and understanding ESG issues in emerging markets.
5 Questions about SRI
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Emerging Markets ESG website is a feature called “5 Questions about SRI”. Each Monday, EMESG publishes a five-point interview with experts and practitioners who deal professional with socially responsible investing in all its finest aspects, with the end goal being to transmit the interviewees’ personal insights to the global audience of users who follow EMESG’s activities. Five Questions about SRI is a hot feature particularly because for the site’s users, it opens a window into the minds of some of the most successful SRI experts today, whether they be corporate professionals, private investors, academics, or other folks with a vested interest in understanding the nature of ESG policies in emerging markets. Geoffrey Mazullo conducts the interviews and tailors his questions to get the most knowledge out of each brief weekly conversation, with what he describes as a four-fold goal – “to collect a catalogue of examples of SRI in practice in emerging markets, to raise awareness about SRI in emerging markets, to reflect on what SRI in emerging markets means to practitioners, and to enable SRI practitioners in emerging markets to network with peers around the world.”
Database in the Field of SRI
EMESG produces a comprehensive database of SRI related events, organizations, awards and media. The database is updated twice each year. In its 13th iteration, this impressive SRI database is available to the public as a downloadable Excel file. With each update and release a blog post reports on the trends and points of interest of the changes made to the database and to the field of SRI in general. The latest version of the database is available at http://bit.ly/MaXOLW.
Unlike SRI Connect and SHARE, the website design of Emerging Markets ESG is a fairly basic one which will remind many of the average personal blog site (a fact that is further accentuated by the link on the home page that indicates the site is running on the WordPress platform – not that there is any problem with WordPress of course!). Due to the simple structure of the site, one may be at a loss to acquire more detailed information about EMESG without contacting Geoffrey Mazullo directly. While the Emerging Markets ESG initiative is a fascinating campaign with a clear vision and experienced leadership, the website could definitely use more details on the services, partners, and clients that drive its mandate.